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Trump Fires Back after Critics Revolt; National Opioid Emergency; North Korean Hydrogen Bomb Threat; Puerto Rico's Slow and Painful Recovery. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired October 26, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:11] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump firing back at critics in his own party, calling an explosive dossier funded by the Clinton campaign a fake.

VAUSE: Killing America -- the deadly opioid epidemic claiming more than 60,000 lives a year. The President expected to declare national emergency on Thursday.

SESAY: And toxic water is killing people in Puerto Rico long after Hurricane Maria. We'll ask the EPA what's being down to save lives.

VAUSE: Hello everybody. We'd like to welcome our viewers all around the world. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

VAUSE: Well, despite what appears to be a civil war among Republican lawmakers the U.S. President insists his party is united. Just today earlier, Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake rebuked the President and his leadership. Flake accused Donald Trump of having a flagrant disregard for truth or decency.

SESAY: And Corker tells CNN that debasing the United States will be the President's legacy.

But on Wednesday Mr. Trump dismissed their comments telling reporters that after meeting with leading Republican senators on tax reform, there is no party division.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have great unity. If you look at what happened yesterday at the meeting, we had I guess virtually every senator, including John McCain -- we had a great conversation yesterday, John McCain and myself, about the military.

I think we had a tremendous -- I called it a love fest. It was almost a love fest. Maybe it was a love fest. But we had standing ovations. There is great unity.

I mean if you look at the Democrats with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, that's a mess. There's great unity the Republican Party.


VAUSE: There's a lot of love in the room. Ok.

Joining us now are CNN political commentators Dave Jacobson who's a Democratic strategist and John Thomas, a Republican consultant. Also with us Jessica Levinson, she's a clinical professor of law and governance at Loyola Law School.

So thank you all for being with us.

SESAY: Welcome all.

VAUSE: Ok. And day 279 of the Trump presidency which began with the giddy excitement of revelations the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party had partially financed the now infamous dossier about Donald Trump and Russia which we will get to -- John.


VAUSE: However it did end with confirmation of yet another contact between the Trump campaign and someone connected to Russian hackers.

Here's part of Pamela Brown's reporting.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE AND SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Sources tell CNN that the head of Cambridge Analytica a data firm working for the Trump campaign reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the campaign asking about Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails.

Julian Assange acknowledged this today on Twitter that that did happen. He says he rejected the request.

So the head of the firm, Alexander Nicks sent an e-mail to several people including top Republican donor Rebecca Mercer relaying that he reached out to Assange. But sources tell us, my colleague Dana Bash that no one from the actual Trump campaign was on the e-mail chain.


VAUSE: Ok. To be clear these are the 33,000 missing Clinton e-mails from her time as Secretary of State. But Jessica -- does this attempt at collaboration, does it raise any questions at least about the Trump campaign, its willingness to work with WikiLeaks for a political gain?

JESSICA LEVINSON, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: Sure it raises questions. But that's exactly what it raises. This doesn't provide any answers. So it provides what a lot of us though which is that the Trump campaign unsurprisingly wanted to get their hands on these. And that's exactly what President Trump has said. He said, you know, I hope somebody in the press gets their hand on these 33,000 e-mails. That would be really great.

And so, he obviously thought this would be damaging. It's fairly clear that WikiLeaks which released information that was damaging to Hillary Clinton right after the Access: Hollywood tapes that were very damaging to Donald Trump. It's fairly clear that they were supportive of President Trump.

And so I think at this point as in so many things we are still at the information gathering phase.

SESAY: And Jessica -- let's just remind our viewers of how much President Trump and his campaign wanted those Clinton e-mails as he proclaimed many, many times in public. Let's run some tapes, shall we?


TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.


VAUSE: It doesn't seem (INAUDIBLE) anything right now, does it?

SESAY: Yes, I mean John -- he really, really, really wanted them.

[00:04:54] THOMAS: And the difference is Donald Trump says that on television and publicly on Twitter, where Hillary Clinton alleges collusion by the Trump campaign. Meanwhile they're funding essentially Russian allies and Russian agents to get dirt and try to use Russia to tank Trump so -- yet feigning outrage that Trump is colluding with Russia.

It's just hypocritical. At least Trump does it in public.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One thing has to be said. Donald Trump went out there and gave that speech with those remarks back in July I think days after the Trump Jr. meeting where obviously they thought there was going to be bombshell stemming from them. And we still don't know all the details about it obviously. Mueller's investigating it.

But it does raise --

THOMAS: Did they pay for that meeting like Hillary paid for the dossier?

JACOBSON: Perhaps that one of those that will come out in the investigation.

SESAY: But the important context though for our viewers - -before you go down the partisan talking points -- it's opposition research, right. This is what people do in the campaign.

JACOBSON: Campaign 101, yes.

THOMAS: Well, what I find fascinating is that's opposition research but Trump is potentially colluding by getting information from WikiLeaks.

JACOBSON: Yes, but this is --

THOMAS: What is exactly the difference? It's either collusion or it's not. I would agree with you it's opposition research. I think the difference is the Clinton campaign staked the whole ball of wax on this collusion angle. And in fact, they were doing essentially the same thing.

JACOBSON: Yes. But let's like state the facts. Like the U.S. intelligence agencies all of which before Donald Trump became president came out and proactively said the Russians meddled in our election -- bottom line.

SESAY: And to that point, Jessica --

THOMAS: Clearly with the Clinton campaign.

SESAY: -- to that point, you know, Republicans are now going to say -- they're going to trumpet the President's line. This is a fake and politically motivated but we just heard Dave make the point. The intelligence agencies had already stated right that Russia was trying to meddle.

LEVINSON: Well, that's exactly right. And all the intelligence agencies and they were all unanimous in this. So we're talking about, yes, is it surprising that each campaign wanted to win and that in their effort to win they were trying to gather opposition research? Not at all. This surprises no one ever.

But the fact that as a result of that opposition research -- that's what we're really looking at -- what did you ultimately find?

And I think it's important to remember a couple of things. One is that collusion is not a legal term. It's what we basically say to mean we think that you impermissibly meddled. And that's what's being investigated, for instance, by special counsel Robert Mueller.

He's saying there's this research. There is this dossier and we're going to try and verify it. And if we can't verify it, we won't use it.

But this raises -- regardless of how we got it -- it raises significant concerns. And again it seems to be consistent with what we heard every U.S. intelligence agency say.

VAUSE: Hold on John -- because I just want to play some sound from President Trump because he was sad and he was angry to find out that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party had actually funded part of this dossier on him and Russia. And by sad and angry, I mean the delighted --



TRUMP: Well, I think it's very sad what they have done with this fake dossier. It was made up. And I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money. And Hillary Clinton always denied it. The Democrats always denied.

And now only because it's going to come out in a court case they said, yes, they did it. They admitted it. And they're embarrassed by it. But I think it's a disgrace.


VAUSE: So, John -- I'll bring you in because, you know the argument coming out from the Trump team is that basically if the case against collusion between Russia and Trump is based on the dossier. The dossier was politically then therefore it's a hit job and there is no case against the Trump campaign.

THOMAS: I don't know.

VAUSE: Or at best, you know, you could say it just muddies the waters.

THOMAS: Yes, I mean I don't - I think it muddies the waters. It caused -- it calls into questioner perhaps the political independence of the FBI, perhaps they should've done their -- not just taken a DNC and Clinton paid document and vetted that. They might have done their own investigation.

But I don't know if I'd buy the Trump Team spin on this. What -- the questions that -- there's two separate things we were talking about. We're saying did the Russians meddle in the election? I think we all agree -- other than Trump -- we all agree that they did.

Look, we're debating collusion but the other thing we found out today is that Clinton campaign may have broken the law twice. One is washing this opposition research through a law firm illegally when you're required to disclose the items. So that may have been a lay broken.

And the other question I'm seeing floated around is treason because if they're hiring foreign agents, I don't believe you're able to hire foreign agents in federal campaigns.

JACOBSON: Last time I checked he's an ex-foreign agent --

THOMAS: -- who, by the way, was in charge of the Russia desk for MI-6.

VAUSE: Treason cuts both ways.

THOMAS: It's true. But also they're saying that he used Kremlin- backed sources for his intel. So arguably one could say it's money washed through him to the --


THOMAS: It's muddy.


VAUSE: This is what Brian Fallon, who was the Clinton campaign manager, had to say about the dossier and Clinton's involvement and the campaign's involvement.


[00:09:57] BRIAN FALLON, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think it's important to remember that a, opposition research happens all the time in campaigns.

B, before -- the reason that Fusion GPS had a head start on this and basically came to the campaign and pitched to us was because they already had been commissioned and hired during the Republican primary.

VAUSE: So Jessica -- you know, this is the issue. Maybe the dossier and the information in it is fine. It's basically the accounting at the end of this, not declaring it to the Federal Election Commission. And it looks like right now it wasn't declared and that' a crime.

LEVINSON: I think that -- so first of all, I'm not sure we're there yet in terms of saying, yes, for sure, you violated the Federal Election Campaign Act as all of us who are following the FEC know. Unfortunately, they're a deadlocked agency that takes virtually no action most of the time.

So even if there's a problem here I'm not sure that we're going to we see the FEC acting on it. But, yes, there might be a legitimate disclosure issue. But I think that the Trump campaign kind of saying, well, the real scandal is that you, you know, if you don't report this on the forms. I think that's kind of like going to the hospital and suing the hospital because they amputated the wrong leg and then the hospital well, the real scandal is that, you know, you impermissibly parked in the staff parking lot. I mean it's just so besides the point.

SESAY: And John and David -- this is to you both. I mean the fact is as we understand it right now from reporting, this opposition research started with fellow Republicans.

JACOBSON: Yes. For sure and we still don't know who.

SESAY: So, I mean -- the fact of the hiring --


SESAY: Yes, exactly.

THOMAS: that's essentially it. But regardless, the difference is whoever the Republican that tried to take Trump out in the primary that started funding this project was not public saying -- alleging collusion, staking the whole ball of wax that they're in bed with the Russians.


THOMAS: And using the Russian to beat Hillary Clinton. In fact Hillary Clinton was potentially using the Russians to beat Donald Trump.

VAUSE: And David -- if what Fallon says is correct, if this oppo research, why not declare it? Yes, we (INAUDIBLE) -- move on.

JACOBSON: Yes. I'm all for more transparency for sure. Whoever obviously made the decision ultimately not to declare it, I think that was the wrong move; same thing with the Republican.

Look, at the end of the day, I have to agree with Brian Fallon, earlier. I think it was last night he tweeted that if something comes out of this from the investigation, I'm always --

VAUSE: It was worth it.

JACOBSON: It was worth it. At the end of the day, like if Donald Trump committed a crime, we ought to know about it.

SESAY: But let me ask Jessica this and Dave, obviously, we'd like your take on it.

Jessica -- does this have long-term implications for the DNC, though? I mean obviously the DNC is in the mix here.

LEVINSON: I think that's right. In terms of long term implications, I guess I would say two things. One is the DNC very quickly said the current leadership didn't know out this. If the DNC knew, it wasn't the people who are in charge now and we had turnover.

The other thing is I think in our current climate there is just so much information coming out; there's so many, you know, we say there're are so many potential crimes in terms of whether this will long-term hurt the DNC, my guess is no because I don't think that voters, particularly swing voters, are really moved by is it possible that the DNC helped to fund opposition research when of course the DNC wants Hillary Clinton to win? I think it's one more problem for the DNC.

VAUSE: Ok. Sorry to interrupt -- Jessica.

We're almost out of time but I want to get finally to essentially the President who was in a very good mood. He said he's a really nice guy. He's really smart. He's got a really good memory. Any sort of image problems he has right now - it's all because of the media making him look bad.


TRUMP: I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am. You know, people don't understand. I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person.

You know, the fact is I think -- I really believe -- I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.


VAUSE: Yes, it's the press' fault. But could that be the media organization like Fox News which has now interviewed Donald Trump as President 19 times, compared to four other appearances combined on ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC. You know, this is unprecedented -- Dave. You know -- Trump continues to speak to this friendly outfit and get these softball questions.

JACOBSON: Yes. It's become a mouthpiece of his administration.

The fact is the media largely, at least the more objective outlets like CNN, of course, you know, basically just like takes Donald Trump footage and just puts it out there and repeats what he says with wide coverage oftentimes, whether it's his staff at the podium or Donald Trump himself at press conferees like earlier today.

I mean when Donald Trump goes out there and says I've got a really good brain or I'm smarter than the generals and CNN or other networks like put it out there, you know, and highlight the coverage, like, it's Donald Trump's own words that the media is reporting on.

[00:15:01] THOMAS: Donald Trump does self-inflict a lot of these wounds but I will say across all politics, candidates and office holders become caricatures of themselves partly due to the news cycle but also because other candidates and advertising cherry pick quotes and Donald Trump give you plenty to cherry pick.

JACOBSON: Right. I think the challenge is when he's like in self- sabotage mode and he puts out these tweets, like it's incumbent upon the press to report it.

VAUSE: You don't grow your base if you keep talking to the same people.

And on that -- we will say thank you.

SESAY: Thank you.

VAUSE: Dave and John, and also Jessica -- good to see you. Thanks for being with us.

LEVINSON: Yes. Thank you.

VAUSE: Welcome.

SESAY: Jessica -- great contribution. Thank you.

VAUSE: Ok. We will take a short break. When we come back, when does a crisis become an emergency? On Thursday, the U.S. President is expected to declare the deadly opioid crisis a national emergency but what impact will that have long term? SESAY: We will tell you from a mother who lost a son to addiction and speak with a rehab expert on treatment options to struggling families.


VAUSE: Back in August Donald Trump declared the U.S. opioid crisis was officially a national emergency but saying it's official and making it official, not the same thing. Two months later there's still no formal declaration from the White House which would give states and federal agencies more funding, more resources to fight the epidemic.

SESAY: And that brings us to Thursday. President Trump has promised a major announcement on the opioid crisis. Now we're told to expect a very big meeting.


TRUMP: We're going to be doing a very, very important meeting sometime in a very short, very near future on opioids in terms of declaring a national emergency which gives us power to do things that you can't do right now.


VAUSE: Well, the misuse of drugs is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. surpassing shooting deaths and car accidents and that happened years ago.

SESAY: And that gap only continues to grow. Our own Chris Cuomo met with the mother and brother of on addict who wanted to quit but couldn't.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Susan is painfully aware of how fragile an addict's hold on life can be. This drive home with her son Roger through Lawrence, Massachusetts holds bitter memories.

ROGER: The whole street would be, you know, probably about 20, 25 to 30 dealers out there.

CUOMO: Roger say this is where his little brother, Chad, the youngest of Susan's four kids used to buy heroin.

SUSAN: If you met him today, you'll go, wow, what a kid. You know, that's -- he made an impression on everybody's life. He was just a big outdoor kid.

CUOMO: When he was just 15, he started taking prescription pills form his friend's grandparent's medicine cabinet. Like so many others, that was his path to heroin.

SUSAN: I was angry. I, you know, it was really hard to reach out because -- I'm sorry, I get teary-eyed -- because he hated the drugs so much for him to get into it. [00:20:06] You would look at him and say, who are you? You would see his body, you would see his beautiful face that was getting older looking by the day and just ask who are you?

CUOMO: What happens when the drug takes over?

SUSAN: They know. They feel. But they can't stop. He wanted to rid himself of the monster.

CUOMO: She says they tried every approach in the book. Tough love?

SUSAN: We've tried that.

CUOMO: If you do that again you're out?

SUSAN: We got that.

CUOMO: Cutting you off?


CUOMO: I'll call the police?


CUOMO: After Chad spent several years in and out of rehab programs, Susan says she was left with no choice but to have him arrested.

As tough as that decision was, jail may have been the best place for him. He got clean, started to make plans for his future but within just two days of coming back home a simple call from a friend destroyed everything.

SUSAN: He came home and he couldn't even eat dinner. He was so high. We couldn't even talk at the dinner table. And my husband and I just said, seriously? You've been clean for four months, you know?

And for somebody that like he was glowing with health and just using that once. He had that look on his face -- that gray look comes right back.

CUOMO: The next morning, she found Chad's dog who usually slept in his room downstairs.

SUSAN: She had that look. And I said, all right. That's it. So I pounded, going up the stairs because now I'm angry like ok, you had a bad day. You're getting out of bed. I don't care if I don't go to work today. You're going somewhere. And I found him, you know. He didn't make it through,


VAUSE: With me now, Howard Samuels, a clinical psychologist treating addiction. Howard -- thanks for coming in.

And I want to pick on Chris' report there because you've experience drug addiction --


VAUSE: -- like Chad. He didn't survive. You did. He used heroin, as well.

Explain why it is so addictive and so how to stop using.

SAMUELS: Heroin is like Pandora's Box. It is the most amazing feeling when you shoot heroin. It's warm. It takes away your fears. It takes away your insecurities. It is amazing.

But then, it becomes Pandora's Box. You need it because once it starts to wear off after -- let's say you use it every day for a week, ok. And you don't use it for a day, you start to get sick.

You start to --

VAUSE: Your body adjusts to the drug?


VAUSE: Physically adjusts?

SAMUELS: Physically, ok. And if you don't have it you get sicker, you get sicker. And every minute is like two hours. Every second is horrific.

So the addict, myself included, during those days, would do anything to get the drug. I robbed family, I robbed my -- you know, family's apartments. It got to such a point that when my mother would open up the door and see it was me, there would be fear in my mother's eyes.

VAUSE: Oh. And this is -- this is all opioids or in general?

SAMUELS: In general -- Ok. Because whether it's Oxycontin or whether it's heroin, it's all the same effect.

VAUSE: So, there is this ongoing crisis, it's been a crisis for a long time. And we had this report of the "Washington Post" last week. We have big drug companies which had been flooding the market with opioids.

A congressional committee found this fact which I thought was astounding, that over a two-year period, the town of Kermit in West Virginia received almost 9 million opioid pills. Population of Kermit, West Virginia -- 400 people. Nine million pills for 400 people -- how does that happen?

SAMUELS: Very good question. It's the pharmaceutical group of companies that were dealing Oxycontin at the time. That's why oxycontin was such a huge epidemic in those states. And you know, you could take the pill and you could put in it a spoon. You could, you know, dissolve it. You could shoot it up so it would be just like heroin. And the pharmaceutical companies have a lot of responsibility in this because it was about greed and profit. And even when they were selling it to the doctors, the doctors didn't tell the patients how addictive the drug was. So the doctors had a lot to do with the problem.

VAUSE: We'll get to what the national emergency will and will not do in a moment but this is a long-term problem.

[00:25:00] And if you look at the lawsuits which are currently under way by a number of states in the U.S., they believe big pharmaceutical companies have a responsibility here to try and fix this problem as well. How do you see it?

SAMUELS: Well, the pharmaceutical companies do have, you know, a lot of issues and responsibility in creating this issue. But you have to understand -- 50 years ago when I started shooting heroin in 1968, and I'm clean and sober now 33 years, ok -- is when I was shooting heroin, I was in Washington, D.C. I was in New York City. Heroin was plentiful in the inner cities.

It wasn't in the suburbs.

VAUSE: Right.

SAMUELS: It wasn't in the rural areas. Now we come to 50 years later -- New Hampshire, Vermont, rural areas, suburbs, Ohio.

VAUSE: All very white.

SAMUELS: All white. And it is plentiful.

So the prescription drugs started this huge epidemic. But believe me the epidemic was there to begin with.

VAUSE: And they fed into it in a way.


VAUSE: We're almost out of time. So this national -- declaration of a national emergency, you know, normally these things like hurricanes and, you know, immediate crisis which then passes. This is crisis which won't pass. So how do you this national emergency? A good step? A lot more needs to be done?

SAMUELS: Well, yes. It is a good step but I guarantee you it's going to be a joke.

VAUSE: In what way?

SAMUELS: Well, you know, right now insurance companies in America are only giving the treatment centers, and believe me, mine is in L.A. the Hills Treatment Center, where I get 15 to 20 in-patient days for a heroin addict.

VAUSE: So 20 days to kick the habit? SAMUELS: Yes. And to change the behavior of the addict who's been

using for years.

VAUSE: Right. As we saw --

SAMUELS: How's that possible?

VAUSE: -- in Chris Cuomo's report, Chad was -- came out clean. Next day --

SAMUELS: Exactly. Because he might have been in jail but he wasn't getting treatment to change his behavior and the way he thinks.

VAUSE: Right.

SAMUELS: I was in treatment for a year and a half. Thank God.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, we'll see what happens on Thursday but Howard -- thank you for coming in.

SAMUELS: You're welcome.

VAUSE: We appreciate it.

SAMUELS: Absolutely.

SESAY: Great conversation there.

Coming up, the U.S. President will head to East Asia in the coming days amid new threats from North Korea.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour.



SESAY: Let's go to East Asia now. U.S. President Trump leaves late next week for his first official trip to the region.

VAUSE: He'll be dealing with an increasingly powerful Chinese president and a North Korean nuclear threat which is growing more imminent. On Wednesday, a senior North Korean official told CNN that the world should take all that talk of an above ground nuclear test literally and he spoke exclusively to our Will Ripley in Pyongyang.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flying into the North Korean capital, life on the surface seems normal, beneath the surface it's anything by. Overseas North Korean workers are being sent home in droves, their jobs eliminated by U.N. sanctions. The U.S. calls it punishment or an illegal dangerous nuclear program. North Korea calls it evil, an economic blockade.

On my 16th trip to Pyongyang, I still see signs of growth, plenty of traffic, construction, a steady flow of electricity keeping the growing skyline bright. But the prospect of a peaceful resolution to the nuclear standoff with the U.S. seemed to be growing darker by the day.

At North Korea's ministry of foreign affairs we ask to meet with the senior diplomat, Ri Yong Pil agrees to talk but the mood is tense; his anger at the U.S., palpable.

RI YONG PIL, SENIOR NORTH KOREAN OFFICIAL (through translator): Donald Trump said he would totally destroy North Korea, a sovereign state.

RIPLEY: He's referring to the U.S. president's fiery speech at the U.N. last month when he personally insulted a fellow head of state.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.


RIPLEY: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fired back calling President Trump's behavior mentally deranged. North Korea's foreign minister made a threat that alarmed even longtime Korea watchers.


RI SU-YONG, FOREIGN MINISTER OF NORTH KOREA (through translator): This could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.


RIPLEY: Some analyst have accused North Korea of bluster, saying they haven't yet achieved full nuclear capability and if they go to war they risk total destruction, but the North Koreans warn the U.S. not to underestimate their resolve and their growing arsenal.

RIPLEY: Should the world prepare for North Korea to detonate a nuclear device above ground?

YONG PIL (through translator): The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader so I think you should take his words literally.

RIPLEY: The U.S. and North Korean tell CNN, diplomacy has broken down, pushing two nuclear powers dangerously close to military conflict. YONG PIL (through translator): The U.S. is talking about a military option and even practicing military moves. They're pressuring us on all fronts with sanctions. If you think this will lead to diplomacy you're deeply mistaken.

RIPLEY: So then I asked what needs to happen for diplomacy to resume.

YONG PIL (through translator): The U.S. needs to understand our new strategic power and fundamentally eliminate its hostile policy towards the DPKR.

RIPLEY: He says North Korea's leader is following through on a pledge, to reach a nuclear balance of power with the U.S., which they say will lead to peace and stability even as many around the world worry the end result could be exact opposite -- Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang, North Korea.


SESAY: Well some in Puerto Rico have no option but to drink water they know could be toxic. Next we ask the environmental official in charge what he is doing about it.





SESAY: For many in Puerto Rico, this is still the situation. Homes and buildings are still in shreds. Debris piled up on street corners and more than 80 percent of the island's residents still do not have power.

Water and food shortages are still a serious concern and people are also dealing with threats of contamination and illness. More than a month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Puerto Ricans are just trying to go back to the basics.

But many say they're struggling due to the lack of aid and what they're describing as a relatively inefficient government strategy. But in a statement Tuesday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency said it is continuing its around the clock response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma in close coordination with federal commonwealth territory and local partners.

Let's discuss all of this now with Pete Lopez, the regional administrator for the EPA.

Mr. Lopez, thank you for being with us.

PETE LOPEZ, EPA: My pleasure. Thank you.

SESAY: So as you know, CNN recently reported that people had been drinking water coming from the Dorado Grand water contamination site and knew that there was some EPA testing that happened a couple of days ago.

Are the results in?

What is known about the contaminants that may or may not have been in the water?

LOPEZ: So in essence, results are still coming in but in effect the -- our understanding of the situation was that the wells themselves are not activated. The wells are inactive and that water was coming through the spigots that were being used by the local residents as part of the water supply through the public water utility.

So the plumbing in those facilities, those wells, are connected to a super aquaduct and that is treated water. That's process assertion. Our early tests seem to be reinforcing that. CNN as I understand it, actually did some testing ad hoc of its own.

And so we're working to confirm. Our hope is to come to the same conclusion, that the water is public water supply and not well water from the inactive wells.

SESAY: Yes. A leading House Democrat is asking the Department of Homeland Security to investigate what happened here.

Representative Benny Thompson posed this question and said effectively, what does this episode say about coordination of federal entities involved in the response to Hurricane Maria?

What do you say to that?

Does this point to a breakdown in communication?

Does it break down to poor coordination?

LOPEZ: I would say, again my experience -- and I've had personal experience with hurricanes. So as a former state legislator in New York, I was on the ground dealing with Hurricanes Irene and Lee and that region, akin to Puerto Rico, mountainous terrain, very rural conditions, many low income families and very similar sorts of circumstances.


LOPEZ: Power lines knocked out, lines of communication knocked out. Water and sewer infrastructure damaged. In some cases, entire units of government made inoperable. And so the challenge -- and this is a challenge for anyone responding -- the easier part -- the easiest portion of responding is to amass the resources.

The hardest part, particularly without energy or power or communications, is to get the resource in the hands of the families and businesses, others who need the relief. So that translation is very difficult. And when you think about it, the roads and bridges compromised,

inability to communicate with the community at large, it makes it very difficult. So it's a very painful process, a necessary process but it takes time and to mobilize resources and get everyone on the same page.

So I understand the frustration. But I would dare say it's not unique to disaster situations. What's made it much more stressful is the aspect of having power, being without power for so long. That complicates the matter tremendously and makes it much more response to provide response to affected communities.

SESAY: I've seen a lot of the reporting this network has done out of Puerto Rico and the scenes have been, you know, heartbreaking in terms of people sleeping on beds that are soaked with rainwater, people who are down to their last vial of insulin, if they have any insulin. And the havoc that has been brought to Puerto Rico and, as you say, the Virgin Islands, has been tremendous.

And some of those people feel they have been treated differently from others who endured hurricanes recently, thinking Texas and Florida. And they feel they're on their own and they're forgotten.

They may not be able to see this conversation because most of the island's still struggling with power but their relatives may well be watching this.

What do you say to those people, who say we have been abandoned, we have been treated like second class citizens, we have been treated as if we're not American at all?

What do you say to them, Pete?

LOPEZ: I would say to you as I would say to any community that I try to serve -- and this is my observation -- as I look at the people who are engaged, the commitment, the dedication, so just conceptually we start with immediate family and then like ripples in a pond, we emanate outwards.

So my belief and the belief I have of our combined effort is that we're serving family. We're serving American citizens, we're serving friends and neighbors in distress. So literally my family is on the island of Puerto Rico, as are friends and neighbors from across the islands, in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. So really an extension of family.

Everyone is pulling together and we don't want anyone to be left behind and, in essence, our goal is to lift -- take away the fear. No one should have to live in fear and really for all of us, we want to try to lift the burden and lift people up, lift up homes, families and businesses, have them recover and be self-sufficient and become prosperous again. I feel all of us are united in that mission.

SESAY: All right, Pete Lopez, thank you so much for joining us.

LOPEZ: My pleasure. SESAY: We really appreciate the conversation. Thank you.

LOPEZ: Of course.

SESAY: They've got a lot of work to do.

VAUSE: And it's just years of work to do before there anything like normalcy.

SESAY: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @CNNNewsroomLA for highlights and clips from our shows. Vince Chalini (ph) and a live World Series edition of "WORLD SPORT" is up next.

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